Chapter 31

Feb. 10th, U.C. 0047

It was a particularly cold day, and a chill pervaded the mansion. The winter had grown even colder, and the nation’s top scientists were at a loss as to why the GINZUISHOU was keeping the city so cold. The mansion was quite drafty, aside from Akira’s bedroom and the other panic rooms scattered throughout, repairs having been neglected over the last 47 years. To most of the residents, this was a minor inconvenience, but to Aina it was a painful reminder that Momo, to whom she would have normally clung to for warmth at night, had been avoiding her ever since the day of the tribunal. Although they saw each other multiple times a day, Momo kept her distance and refused to talk to Aina.

The doujou, unsurprisingly, was colder than the rest of the mansion. The gynoids had offered to temporarily trade places, since their equipment would benefit from the colder temperatures, and the humans would benefit from being warmer, but Naomi had turned them down. The cold, she believed, was good for building character. The gynoids did not understand the sentiment, but they did not question Naomi’s decision.

To make matters worse for Aina, she was spending a lot more time in the doujou, having been invited to Naomi’s advanced classes a couple weeks prior. On this morning, she was dreading the soon-to-start classes, and debating with herself whether or not she should ask Naomi to allow them to keep their socks on for the day. On the one hand, if she didn’t ask, she would have to expose her legs to the cold for hours, but on the other hand, if Naomi was feeling particularly cruel, she might instead order Aina to remove more than just her socks. Even after three years, Aina didn’t have a good handle on Naomi’s behavior, making the outcome hard to predict.

Resigning herself to just taking off her socks, Aina slid open the door to the doujou. As usual, Naomi stood at the front of the room, running through the day’s lesson plan in her mind; Karin and Diaho were stretching themselves in preparation for the class; and Chikako was relaxing in a corner. On this day, however, there was a sixth person in the doujou, one who was participating in the advanced class for the first time.

“Would you please close the door, Aina-senpai?” Jin called out without turning to see who had entered the gym. “You’re letting all the cold air in.”

Sou ka? I couldn’t tell the difference,” Aina quipped, but did not shut the door. Instead of confronting Naomi directly about the problem, Aina had decided to obliquely criticize the situation through snide remarks. Not only was it safer, it was actually more likely to work on Naomi, not that there was much chance of either approach working.

“Feeling better, Jin-chan? Have your healing spells worn off?” Aina asked, trying to sound nonchalant. She was forcing all of her spiritual energy behind her, outward from the doujou.

Un,” Jin answered. “The doctor removed them the other day and said I was all better.”

“That’s ii,” Aina tried to sound cheerful as she relaxed and closed the door behind her. “Demo, are you sure you should be back in training? It’s barely been a month.”

“Mme Jin will just be observing our classes for a while,” Naomi announced. “She currently lacks the physical strength to spar with us, and in fact, lacked it before her operation as well, but she has always been a fast learner, and I want her to observe more advanced training exercises.”

Even though it came from Naomi, Aina was skeptical that this would work out, but she wasn’t going to stand around arguing in the cold, so she took her place with the other students. After a brief instruction from Naomi, they broke into their usual pairs, Chikako with Aina and Diaho with Karin, to practice disarming an opponent with a sword while unarmed. They trained with bokken, although they sometimes used real weapons in the advanced classes, and unlike regular lessons, there were no prescribed techniques. They would attack and defend to their best ability, as they would on the battlefield, and Naomi would occasionally offer constructive criticism or demonstrate better ways to deal with specific situations. Once they had settled into a good rhythm, Naomi walked over to where Jin was sitting in seiza, observing Karin’s movements very closely.

“Can you see it?” Naomi whispered to Jin.

Mieru,” Jin confirmed quietly.

“Good, stand up,” Naomi encouraged her. “Give it a try.”

Keeping her eyes on Karin and Diaho, Jin began to imitate Karin’s movements. In her mind, she could clearly see a clone of Diaho, scaled down to her own height, matching Diaho’s attacks perfectly. She struggled to keep up with Karin’s pace, but was helped by knowing what Karin was going to do before Karin knew herself. Naomi backed off and observed her. For the next few minutes, Jin perfectly mimicked Karin, but on an occasion when Diaho directed a single-handed horizontal slash at Karin, Jin deviated from Karin’s movements. Karin ducked the sword and attempted to sweep Diaho, but Jin grabbed the imaginary Diaho’s wrist as he pulled back, when he was most off balance, and twisted it backwards, wresting the sword from his hand and sending him sprawling to the ground. The real Diaho easily hopped over Karin’s sweep, making Jin’s move, in Naomi’s mind, the superior response. Still, it was only possible because Jin imagined herself stronger than her opponent, and she lacked the physical strength to pull off such a move in reality.

As the exercise continued, the two groups, which started off at opposite sides of the doujou, found themselves next to each other in the middle of the room. In this class, to better simulate the chaos of the battlefield, all participants were to consider each other enemies. As they drew closer, Aina attempted to shove Karin from behind, intending to knock her into Diaho. Karin, however, backflipped over Aina, causing Aina to Stumble within Diaho’s range. Karin, meanwhile, ended up with her back towards Chikako. Things weren’t looking good for Karin or Aina, but the situation did not have a chance to play out. A loud thump reverberated from the corner of the doujou as Jin attempted to mimic Karin’s backflip but landed on her upper back.

For a sickening moment, everyone in the room feared that she had landed on her implant. The implant itself was sturdy, but not unbreakable, and she had just recovered from brain surgery. They all let out a sigh of relief when Jin sat up, seemingly unharmed.

“Don’t move,” Naomi ordered her, cursing herself for not keeping a closer eye on the young girl. She knelt down behind Jin and, her palms facing Jin’s neck, crossed one hand behind the other and began emitting a soothing light from her hands.

“Naomi-sama,” Aina gasped. “You’re mahou?” Naomi didn’t answer right away, focusing her attention on maintaining the healing spell.

“No, I’m not,” Naomi explained, the glow fading from her hands. “At least, not in the way you’re thinking. Actually, I have your parents to thank for that. Due to their research into the nature of magic, I was able to discover that it’s possible to shape spiritual energy into magical energy. A lot of energy is lost in the conversion however. Even with my immense reserves, I can only cast simple spells like this one. Thankfully, Mme Jin appears to be unharmed. Though to be safe, I want you to report to the infirmary.” Jin nodded without protest.

“Shall I escort you, my flower?” Diaho offered a hand to her. It had been years since he had treated Aina that way, perhaps out of consideration for Momo’s feelings, but perhaps because Aina wasn’t impressed by it, so she was always a little surprised when she saw him act this way. Jin took his hand and pulled herself up.

Arigatou,” she thanked him. “I can see myself to the infirmary. Please, continue without me.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Naomi assured her. “One of the gynoids will be here shortly to escort you.” As she finished speaking, the door to the doujou slid open and Sena bade Jin to follow her.

“Naomi-sama,” Aina raised her hand as Jin and Sena left, “I’ve been wondering this for a while now, but did mahou not exist before recently? I’ve read some ancient books that mention mahou, but they either dismiss it as fictional or provide descriptions that are inconsistent with the mahou we see in modern times. Soshite, minna always told me that my parents were at the forefront of mahou research, but if it had always existed, you would think all the important research would have already been done.”

“Your suspicions are correct,” Naomi told her. “Mahou did not exist fifty years ago, except in fictional tales. I first witnessed it myself only a few decades ago. I suspect spiritual energy may be the same. Although it has existed since before I was born, there are very few mentions of it in historical texts, and they all appear to be fictional.”

“How is that possible?” Aina followed up. Naomi hesitated before answering.

“I know you want to curry favor with our master,” she chided, “but you would do well to educate yourself on more recent history. Reading about 20th and 21st-century Japan will only get you so far in life.”

“I already know all about that stuff,” Aina protested. “The re-emergence of the two superpowers; the rise of the Futarchy; the mass purging in America; the destruction of Japan, India, and the southern hemisphere…” She stopped herself short of mentioning the annexation of Paris, as she knew it was still a sore spot for Naomi.

“You know only what they taught you in that propaganda factory they call a school. Do you have any idea why the world has been in a state of constant war for the past few centuries?”

“The sekai is always at sensou,” Aina bluffed. “There’s nothing special about the last few centuries.”

“Nice try,” Naomi smirked, though everyone knew she was being sarcastic. Deception was an important skill for a meido, one that they were all encouraged to practice and improve, but it was nearly impossible to pull one over on the elderly Naomi. “Can anyone else tell Mme Aina how this may have come to pass?” There was silence throughout the doujou. Karin and Chikako were more educated than most meido, but this merely meant they could read, write, and perform arithmetic well enough to carry out more advanced household duties. Because they served the education minister, the entire staff was supposed to be better-educated than the average household staff, and Diaho was expected to have no equal among the few butlers employed in the Federation, but like Aina, he had tailored his studies towards Akira’s areas of interest.

“You are all useless. Cheap, disposable assassins. Walking corpses, the lot of you.” Naomi spat. “How do you expect to seize the opportunities to change the course of history if you cannot even identify them? Get out. We’re done here today. Use the time to learn a thing or two about the world.”

Ha!” They all obeyed, though only Aina answered with feeling.